My father created, collated, and curated a lifetime of photograph albums. We have them still. My mum and dad also wrote extensive and fortnightly family letters all printed and enveloped and then posted across the world (they became emails as technology marched on).
All of that means something if you knew them.
If you were part of our lives. If your journey and ours intersected at some point. But even then you would have had to know them properly to know the details never published or celebrated – the private stuff every family has. Because even before facebook and insta – living was edited before public viewing.
So if you were NOT part of our family you would perhaps see an “interesting historical record” … you might focus on the styles and fashions of clothing and hair, of domestic home life and utensils … on the difference in the “stuff” we take for granted nowadays.
The family “stuff” would be mildly interesting but not captivating.
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“So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” Luke 2:16-21
Before Christmas I wrote a post that the traditional biblical Christmas Story had all the elements of a bad panto intended to invoke knee-jerk responses.
Br Francis-Clare added a comment: “It’s all in our imagination.” And left a book title explaining: “Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes” – Cultural Studies in the Gospels – by Kenneth E. Bailey.
I bought the book (no kindle version exists) and it arrived the other day.
It talks about Eastern Christians as opposed to Western Christians. It talks of the (western) Greek of the bible (pored over word by word) being one language further removed from the bible than the Eastern writings (which I have never heard of). And it makes a strong case for the “cultural distance” of my (western) understanding being so much more distant from the “real bible” because of that.
For a flavour of what “that” all means, here is the comment from Br Francis-Clare (which is a paraphrase from the book):
“Firstly, Joseph was of the house and Tribe of David, he had relatives in this place, of course they were taken in. Stables in the time of Christ bear no resemblance to those we may have learned of or seen – our old cow bail with rotten wood and holes in the side. J.J. & M were brought into the family’s own dwelling place, a place shared by man and beast alike, back behind the Inn on a slightly lower level and Jesus was laid in the cradle of rock filled with the hay the family’s beasts would have eaten. Furthermore, they were not poor because Joseph was an Artisan, a Carpenter a man of great skill. I am sure he would have paid the fee for their stay, lest the Inn Keeper lose out. We like the romance of what we believe of the ‘Poor Christ who entered in” We read the scriptures through the eyes of our own understanding and histories’. The romance of having a pauper die for us … So what if God was of moderate means and became fully incarnate – without the womb – in Joseph’s long lost relative’s “Loungable”. “
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This is now the second book *** I have been “given” that pulls back a veil. Not a veil of holiness and God, but this insidious “Christian tradition” of “nice” so ingrained.
A “tradition of nice” that keeps us from the very “God” within (but does keep us debating whose”pored over” interpretation is correct).
A distance we need?
An intimacy we prefer to avoid … ?
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*** “The Bible Tells me So … Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read it”, by Peter Enns